Early screening can and does save lives

LIHUE — Though the nation’s lung-cancer survival rate is rising, Hawaii ranks below average for early-stage diagnosis and lung-cancer survival, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

Those two things go hand in hand, according to ALA experts. They point out lung cancer is so deadly because most lung-cancer cases are diagnosed at later stages in the disease. Nationwide, only 21.5% of lung-cancer cases nationally are diagnosed at early stages.

The best way to early diagnose lung cancer is to get screened, and in Hawaii only 2.7% of those eligible for screenings have been screened. According to the report the national screening average is 4.2% of those eligible. Hawaii ranked 47th out of 48 states for early-stage diagnosis.

“Lung cancer screening is a powerful tool to save lives,” said Carrie Nyssen, ALA in Hawaii senior director of advocacy. “Yet we’re only seeing a fraction of those who qualify actually getting screened. Greater awareness of this test is needed to save more lives in Hawaii.”

Hawaii Pacific Health suggests consulting with a primary-care doctor to discuss a screening. Patients who qualify for screening are between 55 and 77 years old, are asymptomatic for lung cancer, have smoked within the last 15 years or have smoked 30 pack-years or more. One pack year means smoking one pack per day for one year, according to HPH.

The “State of Lung Cancer Report” issued by ALA Wednesday estimates 860 Hawaii residents will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019.

It also shows the nationwide, five-year, lung-cancer survival rate increased from 17.2% a decade ago to 21.7% in 2019.

In Hawaii the survival rate is 18.7%, putting the state at 36th out of 45 states that were included in that data set. The report examines the toll of lung cancer throughout the nation, and outlines steps every state can take to better protect its residents from lung cancer.

Other statistics highlighted in the report show Hawaii is behind the nation by nearly every measurement. The state ranks 33rd out of 48 in five-year survival rates, 47th out of 48 in early diagnosis, and 33rd out of 48 with the percentage of cases that underwent surgery.

For Hawaii, the report suggests better education to increase screening rates and thusly boost survival rates. Specifically, the ALA’s suggestions are aimed at screening: “The state still has a lot of work to do to make sure that more of those at high risk for lung cancer are screened,” the report says.

“When this rate increases, we can anticipate that the surgery rate would increase, as surgery is often the recommended treatment for those diagnosed at an earlier stage. In addition, when cases are found earlier, we would expect the five-year survival rate to increase.”

The report also suggest ways that Hawaii residents can lower their risk of lung cancer, including having talks with healthcare providers, quitting smoking, testing homes for radon and other pollutants, lowering vehicle emissions and increasing taxes on cigarettes to encourage people to quit smoking.

“While we celebrate that more Americans than ever are surviving lung cancer, the disease remains the leading cause of cancer deaths, and much more can and must be done in Hawaii to prevent lung cancer and support families facing the disease,” Nyssen said.

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